Brilliant tips for cooking on a budget
olive’s food editor Janine Ratcliffe shares some clever cooking tips, all designed to save you time and money. Plus, lots of budget recipes to try.
Try to use ingredients in season
It might be stating the bleeding obvious, but food in season will be more readily available and so therefore cheaper. It’s easy to become blind to seasonality as supermarkets tend to carry most fruit and veg all year, but hit a farmers’ market or fruit and veg market and you’ll see a big difference to, say, the price of courgettes in July and August when they are at their peak to the price in January.
Make the most of your store cupboard
Keep tins of chickpeas, cannellini beans, black beans for salads and stews. Tinned tomatoes can go up and down in price so grab them when they are on offer. Buy bags of quick cook grains and pulses like lentils, barley and spelt but use them regularly - they will eventually go stale if left. If you know you are a plan-ahead person, dried beans are much cheaper than tinned and have a better texture when cooked but don’t buy with good intentions then just leave them to fester in the back of the cupboard.
More expensive store cupboard staples like basmati rice or Puy lentils will drop in price the bigger pack that you buy. A 1 kg bag of basmati is typically 40% cheaper than buying 2 x 500g bags.
Think of your freezer as a store cupboard too – freeze leftover coconut milk or tinned tomatoes. Freeze grated parmesan in small bags to add to sauces, freeze leftover egg whites for meringues and pour any leftover wine (!) into ice-cube trays to add to sauces and gravies.
Use less meat
Meat is expensive so think of it as a flavour-enhancer rather than the main event. Use diced chorizo, smoked pancetta cubes or shredded ham hock to give stews, soups, pasta and rice dishes more body. You’ll still feel like you are getting your meaty hit but it will cost less and go further.
Or if you must have meat, use cheaper cuts
They might take more careful cooking, or a bit longer to prepare, but cheaper cuts are your passport to a budget roast or stew.
Beef: look for chuck, blade or shin for stewing. Buy brisket, short ribs and top rump for braising and roasting.
Lamb: lamb neck is great for grilling on kebabs but also works in stews and curries. For roasting, lamb shoulder works out a lot cheaper than leg and although it takes a lot of time and preparation breast of lamb is one of the most flavourful cuts and a butchers’ favourite.
Pork: pork belly and shoulder are brilliant slow-cooked roasting joints, on or off the bone. Pork ribs will feed a crowd very cheaply for summer barbeques. Pork neck fillet is great for stews and curries.
Chicken: chicken thighs, drumsticks and legs will always be cheaper than breasts but it’s also worth buying a whole chicken as the extra meat you’ll gain can be stretched out into 1 or 2 extra meals and the carcass can also make a stock or soup base.
Batch cook and bulk out
Make double or treble of your usual soup, stew or curry then portion out into servings and freeze. Use strong freezer bags rather than Tupperware, as they will take up a lot less space.
Mince-based dishes like chilli and Bolognese can be bulked out with extra veg, tomatoes and beans. If you are planning to make a time-consuming recipe like moussaka, lasagna or fish pie buy double the ingredients and make one for eating and one for the freezer. Assemble in an oven proof dish and freeze before cooking then you’ll just be a night’s defrosting away from a lovely dinner.
Cook what you have!
Every month or so go through your freezer and store cupboards and force yourself to cook the last little bits you have hanging around. Only a handful of pasta? Make a pasta salad for lunch. Frozen peas? Cook and whiz into an easy soup. If you are batch cooking make sure you use up your frozen meals regularly – even frozen meals will perish in time.
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